A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

The Shepherds in Blue: How a Partnership Between Philanthropy and Houston Police is Guiding People Home


With support from Funders Together Houston, The Frees Foundation, and The Simmons Foundation, the Houston Police Department created a Homeless Outreach Team and documented their efforts in a documentary called The Shepherds in Blue.

This week, Funders Together Houston was honored with a Humanitarian Service Award from the Houston Police Department. This award is the culmination of an innovative strategic partnership between philanthropy and law enforcement that focuses on effective community policing. 

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When the Homelessness Outreach Team (HOT) was initiated as a pilot project under the Houston Police Department's Mental Health Unit in 2012, Houston had one of the largest homelessness populations in the country. With philanthropy's support, the Houston Police Department created a specialized team -- comprised of police officers and mental health experts -- that proactively engaged in street outreach to the chronically homeless. This team builds relationships and helps to connect homeless individuals and families to the resources necessary to get them off the street. This often includes connecting them with mental health services, helping them attain proper identification, and even providing transportation.

Funders Together Houston also stepped in for this last, critical part: the provision of transportation. Members came together to fund a state-of-the-art, wheelchair-accessible van to help HOT get people where they needed to go. Since this donation in late 2012, the van has made over 630 non-custody transports, playing a major part in amplifying the impact that HOT’s work has on Houston’s homeless.

In order to achieve their goals, HOT teams up with non-profits, mental health professionals, and local social service agencies to provide people with the documentation, resources, medical attention, jobs, and permanent housing necessary to get them off of the street. The strength and success of this private-public partnership has allowed the HOT to expand from just a few staff in 2011, to one sergeant, four officers, three case managers in 2014.

In 2013 alone, HOT made contact with 2,211 homeless individuals during 1,238 outreach trips, and housed 123 people experiencing homelessness.

Funder’s Together Houston’s support of the Houston Police Department’s revolutionary homelessness outreach program is an excellent example of how funders networks and private-public partnerships can make a huge difference in preventing and ending homelessness. Not only does the HOT’s work give a human face to both police and the homeless community, but it also gives a face to effective public-private partnerships in Houston. 

If you haven't already seen the documentary that highlights HOT's work, we encourage you to view it below. The Shepherds in Blue: How Community Policing is Guiding People Home is a powerful testament to the power and importance of funders networks in community efforts to end and prevent homelessness.  Collaborative efforts like this can make lasting changes in people's lives.

Congratulations Funders Together Houston, The Frees Foundation, The Simmons Foundation, One Voice Texas, and all those involved!



For more information about this initiative, please contact Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation.


We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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